Nostalgia: Malaguena

When I was in High-School at Central Memorial in Calgary (Go Rams!) the Jazz Band performed a tune named Malaguena. I remember loving the power and shifting feels of the arrangement. The other day I stumbled upon this video... Wouldn't you know, same arrangement!

Here's the Stan Kenton Orchestra performing Bill Holman's arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona's Malaguena:

The Business of Music- Conducting yourself with Venue Staff

Keith Smith and I Hitting it at the oak room

Keith Smith and I Hitting it at the oak room

I just had a conversation about something I thought was common knowledge, but apparently not, so here we go. Let me preface this by saying I've spent my fair share of time working in the service industry. A good chunk of that was at a well known Jazz club in New York City so I do have some background in this.

When you are hired as a musician by a restaurant, bar or club you are an employee of the venue. As such you will be expected by management and staff to behave as an employee and not as a patron (or worse, a performer). Remember the bottom line: you have been hired to help increase revenue for both the venue and staff. Conducting yourself in a manner that has a negative impact on revenue will result in you not being rehired, no matter how great you sound. 

Here are some guidelines for the uninitiated:

  1. Be sensitive to your footprint. The room is set up to maximize revenue from patrons. Having a band can often result in a disruption of this balance. Do not add to this. Try to take up as little room as possible and ask staff before moving any tables, chairs, etc. Ideally your presence will offset this disruption, but know that staff will be sensitive to it.
  2. Do not expect to be served before patrons. They are paying to be there. You are being paid to perform for them. They get priority, not you because you're on set break.
  3. If you order food for your break, don't be picky. Gauging food preparation time is a magical art often negatively impacted by circumstance. Don't rely on food being ready when you are. Likely a good server will "send" the order early so you will get your food on your break, but if the kitchen is on a roll it may be ready early and sit for a bit before you get it. If you get a cold steak in this scenario that is not the kitchen or staff's fault. If you make this error do NOT send it back. This just puts the kitchen behind for something that is ultimately your fault. To navigate this, order things that can sit like salads or cold sandwiches.
  4. Ask Before sitting at the bar or at a table. If the room is busy you often will be given somewhere out-of-the-way to sit. But even if it isn't, you should always ask the server who's section you want to sit in if it is ok as anyone walking in while you sit there will NOT sit at that table and may deny the server potential revenue. 
  5. Expect nothing. Unless there is a contracted agreement that you are personally aware of that guarantees you food/drink or some discount on either, do NOT expect that anything other than water will be free. Always ask and offer to pay. Its looks much better to do this than to walk out on your tab, even if it's a cup of coffee.
  6. Be aware that discounts are time consuming for management. In EVERY restaurant, bar or music venue I have ever worked discounts are applied by management. This means, when you get your bill discounted, a manager has to stop whatever they were doing to come give you a break on your tab. This is often a courtesy so don't get impatient if it takes a while. If you need to load out quick after a gig, ask for you discounted tab at the set break and then pay it at the end of the gig. 
  7. Tip. 15-20% is standard in North America. That said you are not a patron. A service industry professional having a meal or drink will start their tip at 20% as they know the business. Also this applies to the total of the Gross bill. If you are given a 25% discount due to being a performer you tip 20% on the original amount before discount. It takes the staff the same amount of effort to produce whatever you have ordered and they shouldn't have to take a loss just because you get a discount. Even if dinner is included in the contract I will tip 20% on whatever the actual cost would have been.
  8. Finally, don't be a needy customer. Staff are used to dealing with people who's needs take their time away from other customers, but when that needy customer is a performer it is extra irritating. To avoid this; follow the rules above, don't ask for split bills at the end of the gig (ask in the beginning), don't make excessive modifications to the menu items, don't ask for the drink list to be recited twice. In short, be easy going and easy to deal with. 

In closing, you always want the management and staff to like you. This has NOTHING to do with how you play. Most waitstaff are too busy to listen anyway. You want to make an amazing impression with your professionalism. Many is the time I've walked in the following night and asked the bartender, "How was the band last night?" His/her answer often weighed heavily in whether or not the group was re-hired.

Thanks for reading, feel free to add or ask questions in the comments.


P.S. Have a happy holiday season!

Saxophone Altissimo Register- two books to check out.

There are a handful of questions I get asked more often than not and "How do I play altissimo?" is pretty high up there.

The altissimo register includes anything above a high F/F# above the staff in the saxophone's written key. In my opinion there are 3 levels of skill:

  1. Beginner- The player can squeeze out the odd high note when they are lucky and do so for effect. The note is often out of tune and not what the player was aiming for.
  2. Intermediate/Advanced- The player has a strong grasp of the extended range and can play specific notes at will as well as pre-practiced "licks". Most advanced saxophonists who have studied and worked on their altissimo fall into this level.
  3. Master- The player demonstrates no difference in skill and proficiency between the normal and extended range. There are few who attain this level.

But where to begin?

It's pretty much accepted by everyone I've ever talked to that you start with Sigurd M. Rascher's "Top-Tones for the Saxophone, Four - Octave Range". This book is not really a book on altissimo as much as the gateway to changing the way you will approach your tone concept. Rascher's overtone approach is a must for any saxophonist looking to extend their range, but will also broaden and deepen your sound by teaching you to better control your air and embouchure. It is a must read. It takes time, but his method will propel you towards and through Intermediate and Advanced levels of altissimo skill.

The second book I would recommend will take you to mastery if you let it. You could buy it at the same time as the first, but know that working through Racher's overtone studies only makes this book easier to use. Rosemary Lang's "Beginning Studies in the Altissimo Register for Saxophone" was long out of print, but recently revised and re-released by Gail B. Levinsky. This is an amazing book that takes you through the upper range of the instrument a half-step at a time with scales, arpeggios and (most importantly) easy melodies. Working through this book one etude at a time will gradually raise the top of your range by extending the skills you already posses in the normal register. 

I keep both of these books in my practice rotation and have found them invaluable on my altissimo journey.

If you have other books or exercises you have found helpful please add them in the comments!


PS- Can't really talk about extended range without mentioning Lenny. He throws down at 0:40. Enjoy!

Education Food For Thought...

I spend a lot of time working with high-school students in different settings. 

This is an article I came across a few months ago which I found gave me some interesting perspective. A teacher shadows two students each for a day and shares the lessons she learned from the other side of the classroom. She also wrote a follow-up post. Links to both below.



A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days - a sobering lesson learned

A PS to the guest post on shadowing HS students (and the author revealed)

The Beginning...

I've wanted to write a blog for a while.

I've been putting it off for years, but now seems to be the time.

What I wanted was a place where I could write about music and being a musician. A place where I could post information and inspiration regarding an art form that has had the greatest influence on my path. A place where students and colleagues can check out new/old ideas, both mine and others. 

So check it out. It's going to be an evolving work in progress as life is. My initial goal is to put out a bigger piece of content every month or so with scattered short posts in-between. We'll see how it goes so feel free to comment and let me know if you have questions you'd like addressed. I don't know everything by a LONG shot (who does?), but I do have the advantage of knowing a number of people with a lot more experience than me.

Also- I want this site to not just be about my journey, but about the music community. We all need to stick together out there so check out the "community" section on this site for links to different players and resources and let me know if there are some I should add.

Cheers and be well,